Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman said he never wanted to hear about another child working at a Pasco adult entertainment business, so earlier this year he asked for new, stricter rules for those businesses.
On Tuesday, after learning that the state may be about to address that very issue with Senate Bill 7064 heading for the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Weightman and his fellow commissioners agreed to pen a letter supporting the bill.
Weightman raised the issue of stricter adult business rules in February, several days after local law enforcement released details of charges brought in a local human trafficking case. It included information about a 16-year-old girl who ran away from her New Port Richey home late last year and ended up working at adult businesses in Pasco and Pinellas counties.
According to a sheriff’s office report, that girl had sex with 12 different individuals.
Weightman said he wanted the county to revisit its rules and not just about how such clubs are regulated, but also for stores that sell related products that feed into what he called “X-rated businesses.”
On Tuesday, Pasco County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder told commissioners that the Senate bill would require adult businesses to keep records of both their employees and independent contractors, including their identification and age.
Weightman said that after he had previously raised the issue, other counties, including Orange County, had reached out to lawmakers to see if state rule adjustments could be made.
Steinsnyder said at the time that changes in the county’s adult entertainment business rules would require some work since they’re in zoning regulations. Reporting requirements would mean revamping the approach that the county currently uses, he said.
“I think that effort is well worth it,” Weightman said at the time, adding that it is especially true since Pasco is trying to demonstrate it is a vibrant and healthy community.
The Senate bill, which got unanimous support when it was approved last week, approaches the human trafficking rules from several different angles.
According to the Florida Senate website, the bill would address the issue by “increasing criminal penalties for specified offenses involving adult theaters; providing a civil cause of action for victims of human trafficking against certain entities or persons; authorizing judicial circuits to establish educational programs for persons convicted of or charged with certain violations; creating the Statewide Data Repository for Anonymous Human Trafficking Data at the University of South Florida.”
The text of the bill indicates that, in some cases, offenses now considered misdemeanors would now be handled as felonies.
Weightman said that he was pleased that the state’s approach to getting a handle on the problem was giving both prosecutors and law enforcement agencies the tools they need.
“This is very good to hear,” he said. “This has more stringent consequences.”